Letter details reasons behind Pierce Transit firing

Pierce Transit safety chief made change without authority, didn’t review timecards, COO wrote

Staff writerMarch 28, 2014 

Pierce Transit fired Public Safety Chief Rod Baker this week for switching two off-duty Tacoma police officers from hourly to salaried employees without authority, according to a copy of Baker’s termination letter obtained Friday by The News Tribune.

Baker also directed his staff to use a rubber stamp to approve timecards, demonstrating a “severe lack of good judgment,” the letter said.

Chief Operations Officer Doug Middleton also cited “general incompetency or inefficiency” as reasons for terminating Baker, according to the document.

Middleton said Baker contended that switching the two Tacoma officers, who worked as command liaisons, to salaries saved the agency money. But Middleton said it increased their costs by 50 percent.

Four months after being placed on administrative leave, Pierce Transit fired Baker on Monday.

Responding to allegations that led to his firing, Baker said he believed he had the authority to switch the two Tacoma officers from hourly pay. The change “allowed for an increase in program efficiency,” Baker said in a letter to Middleton.

Middleton said Baker never had that authority. Contracts for the two off-duty Tacoma officers specified charging by the hour.

Baker said he didn’t view the change as entering into a new contract. “I see now that I may have been in error,” he wrote March 5.

The public safety chief was given the chance to resign, which his lawyer declined on his behalf, Middleton wrote. Middleton, Baker’s immediate supervisor, then fired him.

Baker’s attorney, Mitchell Riese, did not return calls for comment Friday.

In his response to Middleton, Baker said the purpose of using his “signature stamp” was to meet payroll deadlines.

While Baker acknowledged mistakes and apologized, Middleton said, the former chief provided no new information to change Middleton’s decision.

Baker was on leave at the rate of his annual salary of $123,272 until his termination. He had been Pierce Transit’s public safety chief since 2006 and had worked for the agency since 2000.

He defended his record to Middleton.

“My vision has always been to professionalize Transit Public Safety,” Baker wrote. “I strive for the highest professional conduct from myself and from my staff.”

In November, Baker was put on leave after an internal audit cited irregularities with timekeeping and payments to the pair of off-duty Tacoma police officers who reported to him. Officers from outside police agencies work on contract to help supervise transit security officers.

An outside investigator concluded Baker “likely exceeded” his authority by making the salary pay decision without approval from Pierce Transit’s executive director or board.

Under the salary system, the two Tacoma officers recorded 20 hours a week on their timecards — 10 hours on Saturdays and 10 hours on Sundays — regardless of when they worked.

The investigation found no evidence that hours were over-reported or improperly approved. But it said Pierce Transit’s management and payroll system “provides the opportunity for inappropriate and potentially illegal behavior.”

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647

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